Tuesday, March 31, 2015

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Was the Nigerian Military Complicit in the Chibok Abductions?

Experts on Boko Haram suggest that the kidnap of over 200 schoolgirls in northern Nigeria could not have been carried out without some degree of police or military cooperation.
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Nigerian soldiers training with the US army. Photograph by US Army Africa.

On the night of 14 April, members of from the Islamist militant group Boko Haram attacked a secondary school in Chibok, Borno State and abducted more than 200 girls, most of whom are still being held. Some reports claim that Nigeria's military had advance warning of the attack but failed to act. According to two experts, military or police collusion in the abductions is not unlikely.

“You wonder whether there could be complicity,” Virginia Comolli, Research Fellow for Security and Development at The International Institute for Strategic Studies, told Think Africa Press. “Many young men were killed and beaten in the crackdown against Boko Haram; police or soldiers might have developed sympathies for Boko Haram if one of their relatives was caught up in this.”

According to Amnesty International, the Nigerian army has committed serious human rights abuses in its campaigns against Boko Haram. For example, the human rights organisation claims that over a thousand Nigerians died in police custody in the first half of 2013; many of these were suspected Boko Haram members but were held without trial or evidence.

Meanwhile, since Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states were put under a state of emergency last year, countless homes, businesses and mosques have been raided, and thousands of men and boys have been arrested, loaded into trucks and thrown in prison. According to many of their families, the arrests have been indiscriminate.

Bala Liman, a PhD candidate at School of Oriental and Africa Studies in London and an expert on Boko Haram, suggested another reason why there may have been military complicity in the Chibok abductions.

“Look at the $8 billion which was provided to the security forces in 2011," he said, "most of the money was lost to corruption rather than going to fight Boko Haram. Most of the soldiers I speak to nowadays are still under-equipped."

With corruption so widespread, Liman suggests that bribery could have been a motivation behind collusion with Boko Haram. If this did happen, it would not be the first time.

In January 2012, for example, top Boko Haram operative Kabiru Umar (alias Kabiru Sokoto) escaped from jail having been sentenced to life imprisonment the previous month for his role in the bombing of a Catholic church in Madalla, Niger State. When he was re-captured, Sokoto claimed that Commissioner of Police Hassan Zakari Biu had facilitated his escape after being bribed. Biu was soon dismissed.

There have also been a number of incidents where current or previous members of the Nigerian military have been killed or arrested alongside Boko Haram members. Last month, for example, a Special Forces instructor was allegedly found dead amongst Boko Haram causalities after a firefight in Borneo state, still carrying his army identity card.

The revelation came in an interview with an unnamed army lance corporal, who was a guest on a Voice of America Hausa Service. The soldier, who identified himself as serving with Bama unit in Borno State, said that he and his men had frequently been abandoned by army commanders who crossed over to Boko Haram and that the militant group was now essentially being assisted by “mercenaries from the Nigerian Army.”

The soldier also claimed that many of his colleagues in the army were quietly leaving the army due to their frustrations. “Even me that is talking to you now, I am preparing to leave," he said. "I just want to tell the world so that they will know what is happening. These people are doing this secretly."

Major General Chris Olukolade, the Director of Defence Information, countered these claims, suggesting the interviewee was not a real soldier. But the idea of government-aligned individuals secretly batting for Boko Haram is not without precedent.

In January 2012, President Goodluck Jonathan himself said that Boko Haram may have infiltrated the Nigerian government. In a speech at a church service, he said: “Some of them are in the executive arm of government, some of them are in the parliamentary/legislative arm of government while some of them are even in the judiciary.

“Some are also in the armed forces, the police and other security agencies," he continued. "Some continue to dip their hands and eat with you and you won’t even know the person who will point a gun at you or plant a bomb behind your house.”

Aided by drones and equipment supplied by some of Nigeria's Western allies, the search for the abducted girls is now ongoing in the huge Sambisa forest, which covers some 60,000 square kilometres.

According to Liman, “this area is well known to the military,” but given the alleged collusion between members of the army and Boko Haram, it is not clear how much of a reassurance this should provide.

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The crisis could be prolonged as a moneyspinner. I'm sorry to say that's the first thought that crossed my mind when this news broke.The danger to the girls is, I imagine, profound. But I think the military response could be stage-managed, a bit like a gladiator ring.For a precedent look as far as Uganda and the history there. Again you had children who were kidnapped from boarding schools, army notified in advance but failed to respond. Chiefs hauled in more aid so that they can "catch Kony". Jane Bussman and others have put forward a compelling account of all that, and the naivety of the media around it.